Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydeville.    Original 15th century stained glass panels.   Royal Window North West Transept Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral, of all the cathedrals I have managed to visit, remains firmly on my ‘favourites’ list. I lived there for a while many years ago, having been entranced by the city and cathedral on one visit. In those far off days as it was free to visit the Cathedral, which was very handy as money was in short supply, I spent many a happy lunchtime wandering about that wonderful place and grew familiar with its many interesting spots, such as where Thomas Becket was slain, where Cardinal Morton, Good King Richard’s nemesis, once lay buried, his grave now empty and the beautiful tomb of Edward the Black Prince. But my favourite spot was to stand and gaze up at the glorious windows, known as the Royal Windows, depicting Edward IV and his family. From their likenesses in those windows they all appeared to be very good looking, quite beautiful in the Queen’s case, and the people of that time who visited the Cathedral must have been proud of their handsome royal family. Of course it was to end tragically but that is covered elsewhere and so…. back to the windows..

Edward commissioned these windows, which were glazed by William Neve, about 1480, having been a frequent visitor to Canterbury. They were badly damaged in 1643 by an over zealous and obnoxious Puritan, Richard Culmer, who left a description of himself in the very act of destruction ‘on top of the citie ladder, neer 60 steps high, with a whole pike in his hand ratling down proud Becket’s glassy bones’.(1).  Later this odious man relieved himself in the Cathedral as he was too afraid to leave being in fear of the crowd  which had gathered outside and  was ready ‘to knock out his brains’(2 ). He sounds a right little charmer!

The late historian John Ashdown-Hill stated that the faces of Edwards sons, Edward of Westminster and Richard of Shrewsbury,  are modern restorations as is the portrait of Cecily, which I believe actually represents her sister  Mary.  The original stained glass panel depicting Cicely/Mary is now in the Burrell Collection in Glasgow where it also is identified as Cicely. However the figure John Ashdown-Hill identified as Cicely  ( the daughter with the restored face, last figure on the right) at Canterbury is clearly identified at the bottom of the glass  as  Mary/ Marie. Why Mary should be at the end of the row of the sisters ,not being the youngest, is a puzzle as she was the second eldest. However its possible that Mary who died in May 1482 while the windows were still being created was placed at the end being deceased.  It is equally puzzling why Cecily, being third but second surviving daughter would be at the end of the row of daughters too.   In any case Cicely would surely have been one of the three sisters depicted together being third daughter, second to survive.

Stained glass panel portrait of Cicely.  15th century original once in Canterbury Cathedral now in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow.


Modern restoration of Cicely shown behind her sister Katherine.  Royal Window Canterbury Cathedral.  The inferiority of the copy is very plain to see.  

All in all I am happy to ascribe the last figure on the right which has been restored as that of being Mary but having said that I have a sneaky suspicion that the names beneath each sister  at the bottom  of the panels may have got so totally muddled  over the centuries that we are all barking up the wrong tree and it could be any one of the five daughters.  But still the most important thing we must rejoice in is that these windows have in the main survived.


The three daughters identified at the bottom of the glass as Elizabeth of York, Cicely and Anne.  


The faces of the two sons of Edward, Edward of Westminster and Richard of Shrewsbury are said to be modern restorations.  

As pointed out by John Ashdown-Hill the faces can clearly be seen are not up to the same standards of workmanship as the rest of the panels.


The face of Elizabeth Wydeville has been damaged in the same attack made by Richard Culmer.  Now restored.  This would appear to be a very accurate likeness.  Compare it to Elizabeth’s portrait in the Luton Guildbook.


Elizabeth Wydeville.  The Luton Guild Book.

And now to Edward.  Edward’s face has been broken but expertly restored.


Edward IV.  His portrait appears to depict a lean and  handsome Edward in his glory days before he become a couch potato.  


Edward IV and his oldest son, Edward Prince of Wales, Canterbury Cathedral.


The Royal Window in its entirety.

If you enjoyed this post you might also like

(1) Culmer, Cathedrall Newes, 22

(2) Culmer, A Parish Looking-Glasse


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